Reformed addict tells others that change is possible

By Joseph Slacian

Change doesn’t happen unless an individual makes changes.

That was one of the messages driven home by Grant County resident Nathan Harmon during a public talk Monday, Dec. 3, at the Honeywell Center’s Ford Theater.

Harmon should know, for he has battled alcohol and drug addiction for several years. That is, until something happened, a turning point in his life, that had tragic consequences.

That night was July 17, 2009.

The accident
“It was a Friday night, July 17” Harmon told a quiet theater audience. “There was a big party happening.”

After he and a friend had finished a bottle of whiskey, they went to a Grant County bar. After about 10 shots of tequila, Harmon continued his story, they decided to go to an after party.

Because Harmon was on probation for a prior DUI conviction, he decided to call a friend, Priscilla Boswell, to be a designated driver. Somehow, he ended up with Barnes’ car keys.

“We got in the car and took off,” he recalled. “I heard a scream. I woke up and cops were on top of me.”
Harmon struck a tree.

“There were no skid marks,” he said. “Priscilla didn’t have a seat belt on.”

Boswell’s head struck the front window, breaking her neck and killing her.

“This happens to other people, but it doesn’t happen to you,” Harmon said, noting that’s what everyone thinks. “I started making deals with myself. I started making deals with God.

“At 23, because of decisions I made, Priscilla lost her life. She was the mother of two. She was a sister, a daughter.”

Who he blamed
While Harmon’s troubles escalated that night, he admits his life had been on a downward spiral for several years.

It all started when his parents, whom he and his sister thought had a wonderful marriage, filed for divorce. His parents, he said, put on a front to protect their two children.

“They said, ‘Nathan, we’re just trying to protect you so you can focus on school and what’s important,’” he said. “You don’t need to know about our marital problems. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but what they taught me to do, as I watched, they taught me how to put on my mask.

“I could put on my fake smile and I could act like everything is picture perfect. I could go through the motions and act like everything is fine. Below the surface, I was screaming.

“When I was growing up I thought it wasn’t OK to not be OK, so I put on my mask. … This is what I need you to understand about the mask. The thing that is keeping you safe can be the very thing that’s holding you hostage.”

He wore the “mask” throughout middle school, but once in high school things began to change. He turned his back on close, personal friends. He began hanging out with the wrong crowd.

“Who you surround yourself with matters,” he said.

He told his father that he was never going to be like him, that he was never going to touch drugs. But that didn’t happen.

Feeding the bear
“At the end of the day, what’s the big deal?” Harmon asked rhetorically. “Everyone talks about it. What’s the big deal? Everyone jokes about it. Everyone else is doing it. It’s just a joint. It’s just a pill. It’s just a bottle … We rationalize it in so many different types of ways. The very first time you compromise yourself … when there was an internal struggle and you gave in, that point it happened because of all your past hurt and your past pain.

“The very first time I compromised and I smoked weed and I popped a pill, it didn’t seem that bad,” he said. “I didn’t fall apart. Nobody knew.”

He likened drugs and alcohol to “a cute little bear club.”

“You begin to feed it, but when that bear cub grows up, it’s a full-grown grizzly bear,” Harmon said. “It’s not cute and cuddly.”
It was soon thereafter that his bad habits took control of his life.

“I started feeding the bear as a sophomore,” he said. “By the time I was a senior I was a full blown alcoholic.”

He skipped school routinely, so much so he was kicked out. He said he felt like a “dead man walking, one heartbeat away from an overdose. I probably should have been dead ten times over, but for the grace of God.”

“Feeding the bear is not healthy,” Harmon said. “Even though it seems innocent, it seems harmless, it’s not going to give you the expectation that you think. You will wake up in the morning and you will still have that hurt you have. At the end of the day, when the bear grows up, and the bear will grow up, it won’t respect you. It won’t care who you are. It won’t care how many times you played nice. At the end the bear one day is going to try to kill you. I use to feed it all the time. The truth of the matter is, I fed it and I fed it and my life fell apart.

“I found myself kicked out of school. I found myself working at a job where I would get $400 or $500 and I would spend it on the weekend on drugs and alcohol and be broke on Monday. I have stolen from so many of my friends and relatives … that I was an outcast and ostracized.”

He joined the Army, only to be dishonorably discharged because of his conduct caused by his addiction.

“At 23 years old when I should be graduating from college and beginning the next four years of my career and chasing down my dreams of being a family man, or whatever I was at 23, here I was at 23 living in my hometown drunk and an alcoholic consuming every drug and addiction that you can imagine and think of,” he said. “Truth is … I felt hopeless.”

Shortly thereafter, the accident took place. Because of it, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for reckless homicide. He served three years, nine days of the sentence. It was during that time in prison that he had a revelation.

The revelation
“I blamed everything on parents,” Harmon said. “I blamed it on my dad. I blamed it on him for being out of my life, the reason I was smoking weed and popping pills and drinking. The reason I was suicidal. … I blamed it all on my dad. I blamed everything on that situation. I allowed that to become my crutch.”

Harmon believes that too often people blame what they do on their situation and circumstances.

“My dad didn’t make me smoke weed,” he screamed. “My dad didn’t make me drink. My dad … didn’t make me have suicidal thoughts or skip school. I blamed every stupid choice on that situation.

“Stop letting things that you have no control over control you. You have no control over it, so stop letting it control you. Stop letting people live rent free in your head. Too often I blamed my Dad for everything. I had to come to terms with something when I was 23 years old. Maybe my dad was never going to be the dad I always thought he was when I was a kid. Was I going to forfeit all my dreams and hopes because I blame it all on him?”
Harmon knows the pain, and he knows it hurts.

“But you’ve got to stop letting the things you have no control over have such control over you,” he said. “Ten years ago, I decided I was sick and tired for blaming everything on my past because my past doesn’t define me. I don’t care what I’ve done in my past. … You’re going to have an opinion of me, you may say something about me, you may believe something about who I am, but you’re not me and you don’t control me and I don’t have to give into your opinion because at the end of the day I learned to take control of controllables and only control what I can control.”

Everyone, Harmon believes, can have the success in becoming sober that he has had.

“I want everyone to know that if they have a loved one struggling with addiction, that they can break free … as long as there’s breath in their lungs and hope in their heart. I’m ten years clean and sober and you can be, too.

“I give God the glory for keeping me alive. I believe you’re not here by accident. I do believe that in these seats, that if you have a loved one struggling, I promise you there’s hope for them. If you’re struggling, I promise you can break free of this thing. I mean it with everything inside of me.”

Harmon now travels the nation speaking to young and old about the decisions they make and the consequences they can face because of those decisions through Your Life Speaks. His local talk, which also included visits to area schools, was sponsored by the Wabash County Drug Steering Committee.

Posted on 2018 Dec 11